Friday Firesmith – Night Shift

We go in at seven in the evening, and the sun had already set. The nights are cool, not cold, at first but the chill sets in and each hour brings a little more need for a warm hat or a coat. The city of Valdosta, or town of Valdosta, however you want to look at it, is busy until about nine and then everything begins to settle down. People are already at work if they have to be, and they are home if they want to be, and by midnight there will be no one out who doesn’t have a reason to be.

After midnight, that’s when the true weirdness begins, and it will last for about five hours, until the early morning people begin to start their daily migrations to the gym and then to work, or just to work. From midnight until that point, however, there will be caffeine, and there will be more than a few glances at the cell phone to check the time, and more than a few wishes for the time to move forward more quickly, and a lot of yawning.

Downtown Valdosta doesn’t have an overabundance of foot traffic after midnight, but there are a few people out. Some go to work at odd hours, no set schedule, you can see them with coolers with lunches in them, safety vests, work boots on, a hard hat slung over the shoulder by a strap, or perhaps, a shovel riding shotgun over the handlebars of a bicycle. These are normal people, as far as we know, trying to make a living in some way. I just hope the shovel guy isn’t out looking for road kill.

A woman approached me as I came out of a convenience store and asked me if I would give her a ride. She was young, maybe in her early twenties, dark-skinned, sounded local, and pretty. I asked her where she was heading and she said, “Anywhere I can get twenty dollars” and she leered at me. I told her I didn’t have twenty dollars, and she replied she willing to go for a shorter trip, for ten bucks.

When I was in Basic Training they let us have a night out on the town, and I stayed in the barracks and read “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. One of the guys got picked up by a woman in a bar. She took him to her hotel room and when he got his pants off her boyfriend came in. The poor Private, with his privates hanging out, jumped through a window to escape and wound up getting cut up by the glass and he lost his wallet in the process.

I’ve never thought a strange girl off the street was a good idea, to begin with.

One of the resident homeless guys, Ernie is still around. I first met him in 2006, and he looks like he’s aged poorly on the road. He’s fueled by alcohol and no matter how genuine he might sound, and he does, all he really wants is money for cheap beer. I bought him some canned goods one night at a truck stop and he tried to trade it in for beer after I left. The cashier ratted him out the next time I went in but I suspected it already.

There’s a man handing out tiny bibles and then explaining how much he spends buying them. I know better than to engage this type so I move past without a word.

In every niche, there are creatures who live there, survive there, and some are only passing through. The dawn still hasn’t arrived at six when we leave, but the morning traffic has picked up, and the night creatures disappear.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The GWT and Me

Today’s Motoring Moron is the person who was traveling down the road in a Giant Wrecker Truck. I got behind this person and the GWT outside the thriving metropolis of Quitman Georgia and realized the GWT was going about three miles an hour slower than I wanted to go. US84 is a four-lane so I kicked it up to about five miles an hour faster than the GWT waited until I was half a mile ahead of him, and then changed lanes to get in front of him.

Clearly, this sort of behavior is an affront to his manhood.

So he kicks up the speed until he catches up with me and passes me with about a car length between us, and I drop back a football field behind him and I wait. He’s going faster than I want to go now, and his manhood has been restored now that he’s in front of me again. The Order of the Universe is in balance now. But as we get into Valdosta the traffic catches him and he’s blowing his horn because the guy who is front of him lets someone pull out and I’m so over all of this. I hit Boone Dairy Road, a side road, and I go around the mess in front of me.

This pops me out back on Saint Augustine and generally speaking, this is a slower route I’ve taken. But I look back in my rearview mirror, and lo! There he is. He is now behind me. Deftly, yet without intent, I have neutered him once again. So the chase begins anew. He with his GWT and me really not caring. The next light catches us both but there are three cars between us. He’s trapped in slower traffic now, and I pull ahead, not with intent but simply because traffic dictates how fast it is safe to travel.

Somehow, without any action taken on my part, I was part of a conflict I cannot understand. I am totally without any comprehension why someone who is traveling faster than I shouldn’t pass me, and why anyone traveling slower should not allow me to pass. Somehow, the collective psyche of the American motorist has been high jacked to believe that no matter where we might be going or what speed we are traveling, it’s all some sort of mass competition with some surreal sense of satisfaction awarded as the prize for driving dangerously in the name of not letting someone pass at any time for any reason.

Explain this to me. I’m at a total loss as to why this person behaved in this manner. Why did my passing this person make him react to what I had done? Why was the fact that I took a side road and wound up in front of him drive him, no pun intended, to try to catch up with me? Is it so important that we turn each and every other motorist into some sort of enemy? Is this something we cannot control or reduce?

Explain this to me, please.

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Good Loving For A Bad Little Dog

There haven’t been many dogs on this Earth who I haven’t loved in some shape, fashion, or form. I started out as a large dog person, and I’ll always love the large ones best, but I also have loved the little dogs my paternal grandmother shared her life with. Universally, each and every dog my family has shared their lives with have been loving dogs, wonderful to be around, and to some greater degree, obedient and faithful. I went most of my life without knowing a truly bad dog. Dexter changed all of that, forever.

To begin with, Dexter started out as the dog of a woman who knew my roommate’s girlfriend. This is the friend of a friend type thing, and my first meeting with Dexter was at a party at the woman’s house. Dexter proceeded to hump the leg of a Korean woman throughout the night until he was locked up in the spare bathroom, where he yapped without taking a breath the entire night. Oh, Dexter was a ten pound little white poodle. And that was my first meeting with Dex.

Without getting into any detail of anyone’s personal life, the woman who owned Dexter divorced her husband and she took Dexter with her, for some reason. She and I struck up a friendship and eventually started dating. Dating the woman meant I was also dating Dexter. I discovered that dating Dexter was to test my ability to love the woman and love the dog.

To begin with, Dex was selectively house trained. When he was out of sorts with his humans he would pee on the floor, or worse. When things got to the point I went to meet her parents we took Dexter, against my better judgment. She and I walked him for about an hour before dinner, and when we got back, he squatted and pushed out a German Shepherd sized log right there in front of the entire family. That was Dexter.

He also ran away. If he got off the leash Dexter was gone like he was fired out of a cannon, full run, usually right down the middle of a road. We spent more than a few hours trying to get him to come back. Dexter humped legs. Dexter chewed up things. Dexter attacked larger dogs. More than once, I had people, really good and decent people, suggest that while my girlfriend was at work I could take Dexter to the pound and leave him.

We broke up, she and I, and therefore Dexter and I parted ways. But she invited me to a Halloween party one night and I went. Dexter was overjoyed to see me. He wiggled and barked and jumped up in my lap as if he truly loved me and missed me, terribly. It’s hard not to return that sort of love, and I realized that I did miss the little sh!t. Dexter slipped out when someone came in, later, and I was the one who found him in the middle of the road, a pool of blood had formed from his mouth, and Dexter was dead.

I cannot tell you how heartbroken I was at that moment. That was October 31st, 1987.

Have you ever loved a bad dog?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Toy Truck Stomping Brat

Back in 1996, I was forced to go to a weeklong class that was five hours from where I lived. I would have rather chewed glass and then gargled with rubbing alcohol afterward, but as it was part of my employment there was no getting out of it at all. At that point in my life, I owned one cat and no dogs so getting a pet sitter wasn’t a real issue. But the cat, sensing that I was about to escape for a week, chewed a hole in my best belt. I had to get a new one so I stopped in Albany Georgia, on my way out.
I can’t remember where I stopped but it was likely a K Mart or something like that and I had no idea the store would be crowded in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, but it was. I had snagged a new belt, some water, and some snacks, but the line was killing me. Whatever was going on in Albany that day required many people to buy a lot of things, and the waiting in line thing was never something I was good at doing, even on my best days.

The reason I rail against children being allowed in stores, generally speaking, is they have no idea at all what it takes to make money, yet they have a very good idea about how to spend it. Actually, children have no concept of money they only have a concept of desire. They’ve been raised by televisions whose sole purpose is to create desire, and parents who have sold their souls to this device in the name of temporary peace which always has a price to be paid in the end.

In this case, the kid wanted a toy truck, one of those Matchbox toys and he was making his case louder and louder to his mom, who kept taking the toy out of the shopping cart and putting it back on the shelf. Decibel by decibel, the kid edged up his campaign and his voice became more demanding and shriller as the line got shorter and shorter and the time became smaller and smaller for him to get his way.

When it became clear to him that he wasn’t getting the truck he took a few steps away from his mom and the cart, screamed, threw the toy on the floor and then stomped on it and kicked it away from them both, as his mother simply ignored him.

I very nearly walked over to her and handed her the belt I was buying.

What’s scary is that if the kid was six years old at the time, and he may have been ten, then that means at this very moment he’s old enough to have had kids of his own, and possibly even more than one. Somewhere out there, the Truck Stomping Brat might be raising a family, breeding indiscriminately, and teaching his kids that volume and fit throwing and destruction are all part of negotiating for what you want in life.

What’s the worst fit you’ve ever seen a child throw in public?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – 57

I can remember turning ten years old, forty-seven years ago, and walking with my friend Mark Kelly, who was still nine, and the two of us considered what it meant to have hit the milestone of ten years old. It was a double-digit number. It was divisible by five and two, evenly. And we could think back and remember things that had happened half a lifetime ago when we were five years old and younger, and it was an odd thing to have memories that were that old. That was the first conversation I ever had about aging, and it would not be the last.

At thirteen I recalled the conversation, because it had been so far in my past, three whole years, and I was a teenager. That meant something. But it really did mean something because my body was changing, everyone’s body was changing, and things were changing all over the world. At thirteen both my grandmothers were still alive, and neither of my siblings had gotten married. We were all still children, with the chemicals inside of us to turn us into adults, but we had no idea how far away we were, or how close.

I turned twenty, twice as old as I had been at ten. I had long hair and a drinking problem. I smoked pot and did hard drugs. I strapped a seven-gallon keg into a backpack and gave away free beer on my birthday in the middle of Lacrosse Wisconsin. I remember some of that night, but not all of it.

At twenty-four I got out of the Army, lost a friend to murder, lived alone, read a lot, drank even more, and changed music, with intent. Suddenly, it was real, to lose someone to murder. Someone I had once loved was gunned down for less money than I had in the bank, which wasn’t much. I bought a gun, got a permit to carry it, and I did.

Suddenly, I was thirty. I remember talking to a woman I was friends with and I told her about Mark Kelly, and we laughed, silly kids back then talking about getting older, yet she was barely twenty, and as I turned thirty I didn’t consider her to be too young for me to spend time with, and she would break my heart over a decade later.

Forty found me married, a newlywed, but it didn’t take, it didn’t last. Bert was there, a puppy, and then Sam came along, and then a divorce, and then that woman (from thirty) broke my heart, and she got cancer five years later, and she beat it. She had a daughter who was older than she was when we met, and she remembered the conversation we had about Mark Kelly when she turned thirty.

At fifty I knew what was coming, and it did, as it always did. The people who threw me a small party laughed and made jokes about my age, and the age they carried, but it was a lot more personal as it had been forty years ago. Life was done with a lot of the people I once knew, and it was no longer a strange thing for someone to die. The joke was there will come a time in your life there will be more deaths than births, and at fifty, I arrived at that point.

At fifty-seven, I retire in three years. I am going to start over in a new career. My writing has improved over the decades and I think right now I am better than I have ever been, as far as writing goes. Bert, Sam, Lucas, and more dogs are gone now, but there are four more with me. Life seems slower, but I look forward to going to Rome, Iceland, and somewhere where there is no electricity for about a month, wherever that is. I feel more alive now than I did when I was twenty. I have memories that are old enough to apply for AARP. I have shoes old enough to vote, that I still wear. I have a measuring cup I bought when I was 24.

Happy Birthday to me, Thursday, November the 9th. I am still alive, and I am still living.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Questionable

Somewhere out there, people who train people to manage other people, are teaching normal everyday people, who are managers, to use a certain form of voodoo to hex and vex employees, who through no fault of their own, are forced to endure this sort of training for hours on end. That last sentence was fifty words long. Long sentences are usually inadvisable, but so are long meetings and classes.  But that is where the voodoo comes in. What they are selling to managers is the idea that it doesn’t matter what the content is, no, what matters is that in a sexual harassment class, or any class, you can fill space and time with questions, regardless of content or relevancy.  I’ll get back to that in a second.

But there is another class scheduled for the next hour and another one after that. And each of these class is a requirement to hold jobs, so everyone has to take them Yet everyone teaching this classes has a formula they use to put the information out and then engage in a mind-numbing series of long explanations that give no one any real information.

This is what it looks like: “So in conclusion, keep your hands to yourself, keep your mouth shut, and do your job” ( I paraphrased this, but I thought it would end sexual harassment if guys, and girls, followed that advice) The instructor pauses. No one asks any questions but he has a half hour to kill, so he asks, “Does anyone have any questions? Don’t be afraid to speak up” And there is dead silence. “Someone ask a question,” and right there is when it begins. We discover, to our unlimited horror, that every class has one person who loves to ask questions. No, there is no hope they’ll email the instructor later, or meet with the instructor after class. So during a break we ask the guy who was doing all the asking if there anything else he would like to know, like maybe how to shut the hell up?

So what happens if everyone just remains silent? We had this one guy. Everyone wanted to go to lunch early. We were on the very brink of escape, “Are there any questions?” then, “Does anyone want to ask a question?” But we had this, right? It was not to be. The instructor, realizing we were all leaning towards the door and he had a half hour left did this, “Well, in the last class, someone asked this question… and he went into a thirty minute long narrative on how he handled some problem in 1994.

Teaching is dead. The idea is no longer to pass some sort of knowledge from one person to another or to a group. We now teach to the timer, teach to the time frame allowed, and we teach people that in and of itself, time spent listening to a bored instructor is enough for them to claim some level of knowledge.

Everything you really need to know about sexual harassment can be summed up in three words, “No means no”. The other classes take a little longer, or they do not, but the content should drive that, not a time frame or a person asking questions.

Does anyone else have this at work?

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Sharers

The great thing about social media is it gives a voice to people who otherwise might remain
forever silent. The terrible thing about social media is it gives a voice to people who otherwise should remain forever silent.

Take a news article that is online, any news article, and then read the comments. You’ll discover quite quickly why the meme, “Never read the comments” caught fire like a meth head trying to cook his stuff in the bathroom at a gas station between an oil refinery and a Taco Bell. If the story is as bland and benign as a dog rescuing a child from a flood there is someone out there who can connect it to some hot-button issue which explodes into mindless vitriol in less time than it takes for you to say, “Jerry Springer”.

Worse, infinitely worse, this form of sharing of thoughts has not only become fun for some
people, let’s call them “The Sharers”, but they also feel obligated, and compelled, and even
worse still, they feel as if other people have no right to refuse them. They have something. They want to share it. That’s as far as the equation goes.

I’ve blocked close to fifty people on FB simply because I didn’t like their content, the way they
spoke to other people, the way they treated me or my friends, or simply because they are as boring as hell. No one ought to entertain expectations that I have to put up with anything I don’t want to put up with when I can control the content that I see and hear.

Enter the Sharers.

There’s a guy at work whose daughter is a great ice skater. He has videos of her winning medals that might put her in the Olympics one day. So he walks around with his phone and shares this with anyone, at any time all the time. I love his little girl. I actually like him. But there is a time and place to share and work isn’t always that place.

There’s another guy at work who is nearly incomprehensible. He doesn’t smoke cigars but he
keeps one in his mouth, and perhaps Freud might explain this to me, or not, but aside from his self-induced speech impediment he has a tendency towards mumbling. Worse than that, he likes country music and likes to play it on his phone, and sing along with it, out loud. Imagine if you will, the sound of a drunk man with a mouth full of gravel who is puking the rocks from his mouth and doing so off key. That’s how he sounds.

So he walked into my office and announced that Montgomery Jenkins, or Jacksonville Jennings, or Birmingham Billings, someone who once sang country music, had just died. “Are we sending flowers or merely irritating co-workers in his honor?” I asked. Am I ineffectual when it comes to sarcasm? Have I lost my touch? Is there a sign on my office door requesting Country Music Mourners make their way inside?

No, but the Sharers cannot read or refuse to anyway. They’re like those videos on Bits and
Pieces that crank up automatically and you can’t cut them off, Jon.

This guy starts playing some song on his phone and I started playing “Song of the Cherubim” on mine.

“Hey!” the Sharer complained. “He’s dead.”

“So is the guy who wrote this song but you don’t see me forcing it on you, do you?”

He moved on to his next act of Share.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Aida

The man in 119 started all of this, really, back in 1987, which was one of those years where a lot of music stuck in my head, and a lot of things happened that would echo for decades in my life. Two years before this, I embarked on a quest to expand my culinary experiences. I started eating spicy food as a means to explore the different foods of faraway cultures. I grow Carolina Reapers today, and I’m more or less blazing a trail for new foods myself.

Mostly, my younger years were a time when I was told what music I liked. My parents bought me records when I was a little kid, Disney stuff and that sort of thing, and then later I listened to whatever they liked because children did not have opinions on clothes, food, music, or anything else. I grew up with a very weird streak in music and I have no idea why; Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, and that sort of thing were the eight-track tapes I bought when I had my own money and could spend my own time. But the vast majority of music that was being created for commercial radio was three point five minutes long and as derived as it could possibly be. Things only got worse as the main delivery system for music, commercial radio, became a stronger force in music.

Oddly, digital music only seemed to strengthen the 3.5 minutes long formula drive popular music. Genre aside, there is no distinguishable difference in artists, songs, albums, such as they are, or musicians. How a singer looks, who that singer is sleeping with, currently, and how their music is advertised means a lot more than vocal strength, musical ability, and quality of the art.

But let’s stop for a moment or two, and examine what’s happening inside your head as you’re going down the road and listening to the radio. If you drive for an hour a day, and I drive a hell of a lot more, in that hour you’re going to get forty-five minutes of music in three-point-five-minute clips, and fifteen minutes of commercials in one minute or thirty-second clips. Your mind is being trained to latch onto to incoming information for these time periods. Thirty seconds, sixty seconds, or two hundred and ten seconds. Let’s take the classic rock song, “Night Moves” by Bob Seger. The single version of this song is two hundred seconds long. Segar repeats the song title fifteen times at the end of the song. Inside of the song is the tale of young love, seemingly lost, and then a lot of repetition. Your mind likes this song. But you’re training your attention span downward.

Back in 1987, and in the years that followed, I started paying more attention to content than hooks. I started trying to find meaning in the way music was created rather than how much of it was simply background noise. I went out and bought a copy of Verde’s Aida, and decided to listen to how music was once created and performed.

You might want to set aside about three hours of your life if you want to try this. Aida is not for the faint of heart. It’s a love triangle gone horribly wrong with betrayal and treason, lust and love, war and death. It’s a musical experience, unlike anything you’ll find in American popular culture today.

I do a lot of writing with classical music in the background. Sometimes, I stop to consider what was happening when a piece was written, how the composer went in one direction over another, and decided to put one instrument in or perhaps take one out.

I wonder if the rise in Alzheimer’s disease has something to do with how we treat our brains. You would expect for any organ to wear out if subjected to repetitive conditions, like carpal tunnel syndrome. I wonder if years of blasting two hundred and ten seconds of musical junk food into our minds cause a certain deterioration. Hours of television, binge watching shows, and sitting there, being fed someone else’s creations while neglecting our own ability to release your mind is little more than keeping a dog chained to a tree in the backyard, and wondering why he looks so sad.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Friday the 13th in October

Triskaidekaphobia- Fear of the number 13.

If you have ever wondered where the whole “Friday the Thirteenth” came from, there are many people who think it arose from 1307, when in October, on Friday the Thirteenth the French arrested and tortured thousands of members of the Knights Templars. This also kicked off rumors of hidden treasure and curses, but that was a fairly unlucky Friday the 13th for those guys, without a doubt.

Back in October of 1972, a plane crashed in Moscow on this date and killed nearly two hundred people. That’s was bad enough, but on the very same day, a plane crashed in the Andes mountains. The plane was chartered to take a rugby team to Chile but it crashed and a dozen people were killed outright. Those who survived knew there was no way in hell they could walk out of the mountains, so they waited and waited for a rescue that never came. Finally, they resorted to eating the dead passengers. Two of the guys walked out of the mountains and the rescue was on. If you have never felt grateful you have food read the book that tells their story, “Alive.” I read it when I was twelve. I’ve never been truly hungry or comfortable flying since. When I do fly, I look at the other passengers much differently than others do, I suspect. You never know.

On October the 13th in 2006, a blizzard hit Buffalo New York and dropped two feet of snow overnight. Since it’s not overly cold in Buffalo in October people didn’t freeze to death but half a million lost power. There were, however, a lot of babies born in July of the next year.

On October the 13th, 1986, also a Friday, the Stock Market shed nearly 200 points dropping the market as a whole nearly seven percent. That day is still known as ‘Black Friday”. I remember that happening because I was working as a Periodic Hydraulic Consumption Monitor, a water meter reader, and was making just enough to keep me in food, beer, and rent. I found it mildly amusing that rich people had lost money on legalized gambling.

Every year about this time, a Facebook meme will appear saying that Halloween will be on Friday the 13th for the first time in 666 years. Mindlessly, this thing is passed around with people hitting the share button far more quickly than their brains normally function.

All in all, I cannot remember anything bad ever happening to me on Friday the 13th. I’m sure there have things that were bad that did happen to me on this day, and something may have even happened to me on an October the 13th, and it was a Friday, but it’s just as likely that I had a car wreck on October the 14th, or July the 19th, and maybe those days were Wednesdays.

However, this about this: On Friday, April 13, 2029, asteroid 2004 MN4 will fly past Earth only 18,600 miles (30,000 km) above the ground. For comparison, geosynchronous satellites orbit at 22,300 miles (36,000 km). “At closest approach, the asteroid will shine like a 3rd magnitude star, visible to the unaided eye from Africa, Europe, and Asia–even through city lights,” says Jon Giorgini of JPL. This is rare. “Close approaches by objects as large as 2004 MN4 are currently thought to occur at 1000-year intervals, on average.”

The asteroid is about 320 meters wide, or roughly about a thousand feet.

Happy Friday the 13th!

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.